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External airbags: their role in side impact crashes

ZF is a car parts manufacturer that is currently developing external airbags. The safety data that it has presented may prompt other manufacturers to consider this technology. Drivers in New York who are interested in vehicle safety tech will also want to take note although it will probably be a while before external airbags become standard features on vehicles.

ZF is focusing on external airbags that protect occupants in the event of a side-impact crash. Its model goes on both sides of a vehicle and is meant to provide an additional crumple zone to absorb the shock of the collision. According to ZF, external airbags can reduce the severity of occupants' injuries by up to 40 percent.

A predictive system will be designed to sense an impending crash and deploy the airbags in the split second before the crash. Whether it will do both is another question. One more concern is that the airbags might deploy when they are not needed. Other predictive systems, such as those that tighten the seat belt or adjust the suspension, do not offer such a drastic solution.

ZF is confident that camera, lidar, radar and ultrasonics technology are advanced enough to overcome these challenges. Its current airbag model already boasts an inflation time of 15 milliseconds, which is comparable to that of an airbag in the steering wheel.

Safety tech is not meant to make drivers complacent behind the wheel. Negligence is always a possibility, but those who are the victims of another's negligence may be able to recover damages under the state's personal injury law. A lawyer may help gather evidence of negligence such as the police report, phone records and eyewitness testimony. The lawyer might then be able to negotiate for a fair settlement with the auto insurance company.

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